Aspen touts success of stimulus initiative |

Aspen touts success of stimulus initiative

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Numerous events funded by a city stimulus initiative – including Challenge Aspen, the Big Aspen Barbecue and the American Junior Golf Association Tournament in Aspen – were successful, according to a committee’s review of the funding.

A list of stimulus events that cost the city about $100,000 has kicked back nearly $3 million in market revenues for local businesses, Assistant City Manager Barry Crook told the City Council Tuesday night.

“I think the best way to look at this is as a return on investment,” said Councilman Derek Johnson.

Mayor Mick Ireland agreed, adding that the events also generated a community benefit in the form of offering a forum of camaraderie among residents.

“That in itself is a justification for doing it,” he said.

The committee reviewed a list of goals set at the beginning of the stimulus campaign, which included increasing jobs in the community and driving business to the service industry. It concluded that the goals were all at least partially met.

Crook said that, although all the event didn’t generate a massive turnout, the overall effort was a success.

“While not all events were considered home runs, we frankly didn’t anticipate them all to be home runs,” he said.

This year’s stimulus project was an experiment intended to kick-start certain initiatives to become annual events. Some of them will take a life of their own, while others are being funded by other entities, like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

Debbie Brown, an ACRA representative who attended Tuesday’s City Council work session, said ACRA is helping to fund some of the events in coming years. She commended the council for approving funding for the events.

“You guys did a really good job,” she said.

Crook’s presentation was the last of the council’s work sessions on the financial plan before members vote on the entire budget for fiscal year 2011.

Other initiatives proposed in the budget include the first pay raise for city employees in two years.

Ireland wants to focus the raises on benefits, many of which were stripped at the beginning of the recession. Aspen was one of the first cities in Colorado to drastically cut employee funding items in response to the downturn, said Don Taylor, city finance director.

Councilman Torre said he supported increasing pay and benefits for city employees, adding that it was a difficult experience when officials announced the cuts.

“It’s been hard to watch it slide continually,” he said.

The draft budget also asks to continue funding for a number of valley nonprofits and arts organizations through grant funding.

Councilman Steve Skadron said he was concerned about funding certain nonprofits because he felt some of their officials’ salaries were over the top. Torre said the City Council should investigate the salaries and decide if it wants to cut back on funding based on that.

But Councilman Dwayne Romero said the city should continue to support nonprofit art organizations because they provide an essential service to the community.

Organizations have applied for about $1.4 million in grant funding, but city budget planners are recommending that the city only allocate about $850,000 total.

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